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Kokkanikis and de Minaur get Australia over the line and into Davis Cup finals

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Alex de Minaur and Thanasi Kokkanikis have dragged Australia into the Davis Cup finals group stage in a thrilling 3-2 qualifying win over Hungary in Sydney.

The unfancied Hungarians grabbed a shock 2-1 lead with a stunning doubles victory on Saturday before de Minaur and Kokkinakis embarked on a steely rescue mission at Ken Rosewall Arena.

Kokkinakis sealed the tie with a 6-4 6-4 triumph over Zsombor Piros after de Minaur defeated Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 in an electrifying match-up between the two nations’ No.1s.

The great escape marks only the third time this century Australia have overturned a 2-1 deficit in Davis Cup.

Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt featured in the previous two comebacks, upstaging Roger Federer in the fourth rubber in Zurich in 2000 before Mark Philippoussis beat George Bastl to clinch the tie.

Hewitt and Sam Groth also saved Australia on the last day of the 2015 quarter-final against Kazakhstan in Darwin after Nick Kyrgios lost to world No.115 Aleksandr Nedovyesov and infamously declared “I don’t want to be here”.

There were no such theatrics from de Minaur and Kokkinakis, but no less tension either as the pair delivered for Hewitt and their country under untold pressure.

Mate Valkusz and Fabian Marozsan’s 6-4 6-4 doubles defeat of John Peers and Davis Cup debutant Luke Saville had Australia staring down the barrel of an inglorious exit from the 2022 competition.

Contenders take shape

Italy, France, Spain, the United States and Argentina are among the 11 nations to join Australia at the World Group stage of Davis Cup Finals after winning their qualifiers.

In the hours after Lleyton Hewitt’s Aussies rallied to beat Hungary 3-2 in Sydney, Italy also came from behind in their 3-2 win over Slovakia in Bratislava on Saturday, with Lorenzo Musetti winning the clincher 6-7 (7-3) 6-2 6-4 over Norbert Gombos.

Others did it easier.

France ticked all of its boxes in defeating Ecuador 4-0 at home in Pau. Arthur Rinderknech earned his first singles win, Benjamin Bonzi won on debut, and the doubles team of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut remained unbeaten in six years.

Spain took out Romania 3-1 in Marbella. After Roberto Bautista Agut and 19th-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, on debut, won the opening singles, Romania took the doubles but Bautista Agut clinched the tie in reverse singles.

The US doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Jack Sock built on the singles wins of Sebastian Korda and Taylor Fritz on Friday by clinching the tie against Colombia 3-0 in Reno, Nevada, topping Nicolas Barrientos and Juan-Sebastian Cabal 6-3 6-4.

A strong Argentina team led by Diego Schwartzman and Horacio Zeballos beat the Czech Republic 4-0 in Buenos Aires for the loss of one set.

Unheralded Zizou Bergs, ranked 163rd, came through for Belgium, the Davis Cup runner-up in 2015 and 2017, against Finland in Espoo.

Finland led 2-1 after the doubles, but David Goffin beat Emil Ruusuvuori for his second point and Berg won the decisive point for Belgium by dispatching Otto Virtanen 6-4 6-0.

Alexander Zverev, the only top-five player in action this weekend, sealed Germany’s 3-1 win over Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro had upset Jan-Lennard Struff on Friday but No. 3-ranked Zverev put him away 6-1 7-5 in the first reverse singles.

Norway lost in Oslo to Kazakhstan 3-1 when No. 8-ranked Casper Ruud fell to No. 32 Alexander Bublik 6-4 5-7 6-4, ending Ruud’s streak of 10 consecutive Davis Cup singles wins since 2017.

Elias Ymer, ranked 133 in singles and 390 in doubles, starred for Sweden as they beat Japan 3-2 in Helsingborg. Elias winning his Friday singles, then the doubles, and clinching victory by beating Yosuke Watanuki 6-3 6-3 in the decider.

Only two ties didn’t go as seeded: Under-manned Canada lost to the Netherlands for the first time in 18 years, and Austria lost to South Korea in Seoul.

The 12 winners advanced to World Group I of the Davis Cup Finals in mid-September, joining 2021 runner-up Croatia and wild cards Britain and Serbia.

Yet to be determined was a replacement for 2021 champion Russia, excluded this week after that country’s invasion of Ukraine. The top eight go to the Finals in late November.

-AAP

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